Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Response to the Minnesota Calendar Discrepancy

Politico's story about the situation with the 2012 Minnesota caucuses was as much a newsflash to FHQ as it was to anyone else. Sadly, however, for a site that tracks the evolution of the presidential primary (and caucus) calendar, that is an embarrassing admission. The correct date for the 2012 Minnesota caucuses up until today, according to the 2010 Minnesota statutes should have been no date at all and not March 6 as it has been listed in every iteration of FHQ's calendar since December 2008. Today marks the point at which Minnesota should have first appeared on the calendar -- assuming no coordinated state central committee action between the two major state parties to select a date -- and it should appear starting today along with the other states currently positioned on February 7, 2012. That is the starting point for any change that is to occur moving forward from today.

My expectation is that, regardless of the state law, the Democrats will independently shift the date of their caucuses to a point on the calendar that is compliant with Democratic National Committee rules on delegate selection. I further expect Minnesota Republicans to move the date of their caucuses as well if it is viewed as problematic to the RNC relative to their interpretation of the party's delegate selection rules. This may or may not result in the two state parties holding concurrent caucuses next year. Years with different dates have occurred in the past but not since 2000.

That means that FHQ will have to make a change to the past versions of the calendar. Normally under these circumstances it is our policy to be as transparent as possible and to either strike through the portion of any post that requires some correction or to issue some some sort of statement regarding the correction. The latter seems to be the appropriate course of action in this case. That is especially true in view of the fact that FHQ routinely uses strike throughs on the calendar to indicate the past position of a state prior to a change. To correct this the "Minnesota caucuses" entry on past calendars will be removed, but a note with a link to this post will be added to explain what has happened. A new calendar will be issued later today to reflect the change for Minnesota that was put into action today.

How did the mistake occur?
I sincerely hope that above corrective measures prove to be adequately transparent and surpass the bar for having actually righted an embarrassing wrong. And yes, for a site that is trusted to track the changes in the calendar this is a glaring mistake. It is therefore incumbent upon us to explain as best we can how the wrong date came to appear in our calendar. It is best to examine that process sequentially.
  1. During the 2008 state legislative session and in the midst of the 2008 nomination process, the Minnesota legislature proposed, considered and passed HF 3066. That retroactively brought the state law in to line with the calendar position both state parties had chosen for their 2008 precinct caucuses in 2007. It also added the March 1 deadline for coordinated action between the two parties. Admittedly, FHQ was not following the development of the 2012 calendar at that point in 2008. To the extent that anything appeared on the site related to the 2012 cycle, it was a function of something having appeared in the news. I had not taken to combing through state legislative web sites at that point. Plus, I, like most everyone else, was following the developments of the 2008 nomination races.
  2. In May 2008, that bill was signed by Governor Tim Pawlenty and was to take effect on August 1, 2008. It did take effect on August 1, but it did not show up in the 2008 Minnesota statutes until they were posted online; presumably in anticipation of the calendar turning over to 2009. The thing about the Minnesota statutes is that the year affixed to them is one that describes not the year in which they are being used, but rather the year in which they were changed/established. Any changes that current 2011 legislature makes to the law, for example, is being made to the 2010 Minnesota statutes. Changes that were made in 2008, then, were being made to the 2007 statutes -- a version that would still have the first Tuesday in March as the date on which precinct caucuses were to have occurred.
  3. As far as I can tell -- and for once the Internet Archive - Wayback Machine is failing me -- the 2007 statutes were still online when I first put the 2012 primary calendar together in December 2008. The 2008 statutes did not post until the 2009 legislature convened and set to work to alter them. Having missed the change to the law in early 2008 caused me to miss being on the lookout for the change to take place heading into 2009 when FHQ began tracking the 2012 calendar in earnest. And since the only legislation to come forward in Minnesota regarding delegate selection events since that time concerned establishing a presidential primary, I was never cued to look again at the precinct caucuses statute.
The good news is that FHQ's process of looking for state legislative changes to election laws has been streamlined in the time since, so future instances of this issue should not occur. But it is a tricky process, following the development of the calendar, and it is even more difficult in some cases in caucus states. Minnesota has proven that, but the matter is not without human error.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kudos for your excellent humility in addressing your oversight. May others follow your lead.